Marysville Fire Chief Jay Riley and more than a dozen other members of the Upper Scioto Water Rescue Task Force were standing ready Friday morning for the call to save lives.
From a National Guard base not too far from Durham, North Carolina, the winds were kicking up and steady rains were on the way as Hurricane Florence made landfall and headed toward the capital city region.
Since leaving central Ohio on Wednesday with five vehicles and trailers packed with boats and equipment, responders representing the city of Marysville and Norwich, Washington, Jackson, Liberty and Concord townships have completed training, kept close tabs on the forecast, and waited to hit the road at a moment’s notice.
"This is a huge operation — thousands of emergency responders," Riley told The Dispatch. "We’re just part of the machine. If this is all they need from us, that’s great, but we’d like to get in the game and get out there and use our skills."
Local emergency responders and others from Ohio and across the country have deployed to the Carolinas and Virginia to assist with hurricane response efforts.
"This is going to be a long-duration, frustrating event," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said in a released statement. "We won’t be able to fix the broken infrastructure while the storm is underway. But we are going to be there to support all those who need us. Our job is to pre-deploy our assets and teams to help the heroes at the state and local level do their jobs and backfill their capabilities. Search and rescue is our greatest focus right now as well as stabilizing critical lifelines."
In addition to Upper Scioto Water Rescue, Dayton-based Ohio Task Force 1 sent two urban search-and-rescue groups to North Carolina. Task Force spokesman Phil Sinewe said members on Friday were in Lenoir County, North Carolina, not too far from the coast, assessing conditions and getting prepared.
"It’s the rain that’s going to be a huge, huge danger," Sinewe said. "We may not see a lot of flooding issues ... for another 24-36 hours."
Dan Bachmann, an emergency department doctor at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center who was deployed as part of Task Force 1, said Friday that a steady rain, heavy at times, was falling. The group could be there for two weeks, depending on the need.
"This is really a marathon-type disaster," Bachmann said. "It’s going to be days of rain ... It’s going to take a while."
Capt. Jeff Newman from the Sycamore Township Fire Department near Cincinnati, also one of the Task Force 1 members, said he was deployed to North Carolina two years ago during Hurricane Matthew.
A lot of the focus for Task Force 1 responders will be on the Neuse River, which runs across the middle of Lenoir County. Continued rain from a slow-moving Florence could mean heavier flooding and residents who need to be evacuated or rescued.
"The longer it sits here and doesn’t move, the more flooding," Newman said. "Our teams are staged. We’ve got all of our equipment ready to go. If someone says ‘We need you now,’ ... we’re going to go out there immediately to that area and go to work."
About 50 Ohio Red Cross volunteers have traveled to hurricane-impacted areas to assist with response, said Jennifer Bahney, spokeswoman for the Ohio Buckeye Region of the American Red Cross. The group is also urging central Ohio residents to participate in blood drives.
In addition, separate daylong telephone bank fund drives to support Red Cross relief efforts are set for Tuesday with WBNS-TV (CBS Channel 10) WCMH-TV (NBC Channel 4), she said.
Ohio Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jay Carey said the state also sent a public information officer to South Carolina to assist, and other emergency responders are available but have not been deployed.
"People want to help, and I understand that, but you don’t want to just show up at a disaster and say, ‘I’m here to help,’" he said. "You may not be the kind of assistance they need."
Among other groups, AEP Ohio had utility crews, trucks and equipment ready to head south if they were needed to help restore power in areas affected by the hurricane.
"We’re definitely ready to go," spokesman Scott Blake said.
Riley said the deployment provides an opportunity for local search-and-rescue responders to hone their skills.
"We’re really familiar with our own neighborhoods," he said. "Now we’re 500 miles from home ... There really is no downtime."